Category Archives: Romance

Chapter Two (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to start over.

George (James Caan) is a famous author who has just lost his first wife. His brother Leo (Joseph Bologna) gives him the phone number to Jennie (Marsha Mason) who has recently gone through a divorce. After an initially awkward first encounter the two form an attachment and quickly decide to get married. Then on their honeymoon the memories of George’s recently deceased wife comes back to haunt him, which jeopardizes his new marriage.

The film, which is based on the hit Broadway play that ran for 857 performances and was written by Neil Simon, is largely inspired by the events of his own life as he lost his first wife, Joan Baim, on July 17, 1973 and then quickly married actress Marsha Mason on October 25th of that same year. Mason is essentially playing herself and her performance here is one of the movie’s stronger points.

An aspect of the film though that I found even more interesting is the fact that it reteams Mason and Caan just 6 years after they had starred in Cinderella Liberty. The romantic angle here though is much more realistic as both people are on a more equal footing as a relationship cannot work if one person is too severely dependent on the other. I also enjoyed seeing how Mason, a highly underrated actress, could effectively play both an emotionally weak person as she did in the 1973 film and a very strong one as she does here. My only quibble is that her character is again portrayed as being an actress just like she was in The Goodbye Girl, but there she was wracked with anxiety and struggling financially as most artists do while here she seemed too financially secure and more like a woman working in the corporate business world.

The film has a nice breezy pace and the romance is allowed to blossom naturally without ever feeling forced, which along with the excellent on-location shooting I really liked. The problem though comes with the fact that the leads are quite bland when compared to their supporting counterparts, which are played by Bologna and Valerie Harper. Bologna seems to steal any film he is in and he really should be given more starring vehicles. Harper is equally strong and nothing like her more famous Rhoda Morgenstern persona. Their characters have engaging flaws and the banter between them is far more comical. The film shifts uneasily between scenes featuring Caan/Mason to those with Bologna/Harper until it seems like two completely different movies going in opposite directions.

Having Caan’s character go from being really crazy about Mason to suddenly and quite literally overnight becoming aloof towards her is too severe and comes off like he is afflicted with a Jekyll and Hyde disorder. Likewise Mason is too forgiving with it when most people would simply get a quickie divorce since they had known each other for only 10 days. Yet even with all of these weaknesses I still found it a soothing and easy-to-take movie that should please romance aficionados everywhere.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Moore

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Sony Choice Collection)

Class of ’44 (1973)

class-of-44

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hermie goes to college.

In this sequel to Summer of ’42 Hermie (Gary Grimes) and Oscy (Jerry Houser) graduate from high school and begin attending college while their friend Benjy (Oliver Conant) joins the army and goes off to war. Hermie takes part in a wide range of college adventures including starting up a relationship with headstrong budding feminist Julie (Deborah Winters) as well as learning to cope with the untimely death of his father.

As sequels go this one is unnecessary. The story in the first one had a perfect slice-of-life plot that needed no further exploration of the characters. Everybody seems out-of-place here as we keep expecting to hear the background noise of the crashing ocean waves, which was a strong element from the first film as well as an explanation as to what ever happened to Dorothy who never gets mentioned even in passing.

The boys look too young to be attending college particularly Hermie who still resembles a pre-teen not quite out of puberty while Benjy is seen only briefly at the beginning and then essentially forgotten. The scenes dealing with the death of Hermie’s father aren’t particularly compelling because in the first film the father was never shown or mentioned, so it seems like a story arch thrown in for cheap emotional dramatics and nothing more.

Unlike the first film this script by Herman Raucher is not based on any actual events in his life and comes off more like a broad generalization of what can happen to just about any student who attends college with the particular time period of the 1940’s not carrying much weight. The plot is episodic and not story driven, but there are still several enjoyable scenes including one where Hermi and Oscy and several other boys try to cram themselves inside a phone booth as part of a fraternity initiation.

The performances are good and I enjoyed seeing Hermie grow into a mature young man as well as William Atherton as a snotty fraternity brother in a part he seemed born to play. Winters though steals it as a headstrong young lady who shows shades of insecurity at the most unexpected times.

The production values are an improvement and the story has a nice comedy/drama blend. Those that attended college may take to it better, but overall it’s a generic excursion that leaves one with a flat feeling when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Summer of ’42 (1971)

summer-of-42

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

During the summer of 1942 Hermie (Gary Grimes) vacations on Nantucket Island with his two friends (Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant) along with their parents. He soon becomes smitten by a neighboring lady named Dorothy (Jennifer O’ Neill) whose husband has just gone off to fight in the war. One day he offers to carry her groceries as well as help her out with other chores around her home. When her husband gets killed Hermie finds that he can be of service to her in other ways too.

The script was written by Herman Raucher and based on his real-life experiences while growing up as a teen on Nantucket Island. He had originally written the script in the 1950’s, but at that time no one was interested. It wasn’t until he met with director Robert Mulligan that the project got off the ground and even then the studio was reluctant to pay him anything up front and promised only to give him a percentage of whatever the film grossed. The film though ended up becoming a huge hit and made Michel Legrand’s melodic score almost synonymous with romances everywhere.

I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it back when I was in college, but now many years later I have certain issues with it and much of it is due to the Dorothy character. I felt she was was too naïve as she brings this 15-year-old boy in the form of Hermie into her home, but apparently no clue that boys at that age can have raging hormones and that he could quite possibly be viewing her in a sexual way. I felt that Dorothy should’ve shown a little more awareness to the situation and created boundaries from the start and been just a little more defensive than she was. Some may argue that she may have been attracted to the teen despite his age and secretly open to him coming on to her, but if that was the case it should’ve been made clear. In either event the character is too much of an enigma and playing off more like a fantasy figure than a real person.

These same issues continue during their eventual consummation, which ends up being the film’s most well-known scene. On a purely cinematic level I loved the moment because it nicely recreates a dream-like quality of a teen boy’s fantasy particularly by having no dialogue and only the background noise of the crashing ocean waves. However, the woman has just committed an intimate act with a minor that could get her into a lot trouble if it was ever found out. The next morning as the two are lying next to each other in bed she looks over at him and I would’ve expected some expression of guilt, confusion, or even fear, but none of that is conveyed. Also, the idea that getting news that her husband has just been killed would be enough to ‘disorient’ her and get her to submit herself to a teen boy who just randomly walks in is a bit far-fetched.

In the real-life incident Raucher describes it as occurring much differently. There Dorothy was highly intoxicated and yelled out her dead husband’s name several times. He also caught up with the real Dorothy many years later and she told him that she had been ‘wracked with guilt’ over what she had done long after it had happened. All of this makes much more sense and although it would’ve ruined some of the romantic elements it still should’ve been added in as it would’ve helped both the characters and movie become more multi-dimensional and believable.

The setting is another liability. Due to budget constraints it was not filmed on Nantucket, but instead Mendocino, California and the differences are glaring. The landscape is very dry and brown, which is something that would not occur on the east coast, which routinely gets more rain than the west. The voice-over narration states that they had “9 days of rain” that summer, so the foliage should’ve been green and lush.

On a completely superficial level the film still works. The performances are excellent and there are a few really funny scenes including Hermie’s visit to a drug store where he reluctantly tries to buy some condoms as well as his subsequent visit later that night to the beach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

cinderella-liberty-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Say Yes (1986)

say-yes-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marrying for the money.

Luke (Art Hindle) is set to receive a very large inheritance from his recently deceased grandfather (Jonathan Winters) who was the owner and founder of a prosperous toy company. The problem is that the will stipulates that he must marry within 24 hours, or the money will go to his father (Logan Ramsey) instead. Luke isn’t even dating anyone and so he must immediately go looking for a virtual stranger who’s willing to marry him on-the-spot simply for the profit. He finds that person in the form of Annie (Lissa Layng) who is a country girl visiting the big city and who Luke finds to be more down-to-earth than his other past girlfriends who now want to marry him simply so they can get their lecherous hands on his newfound fortune, but as they move ahead with their impromptu wedding his father tries everything in his means to put a stop to it.

Writer/director Larry Yust rose to some prominence in the film scene with his controversial film short The Lottery, which was based on the Shirley Jackson short story about a small town who stones one member of their community each year after their name gets randomly picked from a lottery. He followed it up with the Blaxploitation favorite Trick Baby and after that the offbeat horror flick Homebodies. While none of these films were masterpieces they still showed flair and creative potential, so why he would end up helming this dud, which is his last film to date, is a mystery, but the humor in this thing is excessively lame and the storyline utterly ridiculous.

Hindle makes for a very transparent and bland lead, but my real qualm came from his costar Layng who is a complete turn off in every way. I really hated her rural sounding accent and her phone conversation with her mother, who has even more of one, gets particularly annoying. Why Luke would choose her at random and become so very attached to her so quickly when a horde of other woman are chasing after him is never made clear and doesn’t make much sense.

Winters is the only good thing about this otherwise forgettable flick and it’s a shame he wasn’t made the star, but his ad-libs actually manages to elicit a few chuckles and what he does with his tongue at one point is rather obscene looking. I also enjoyed Logan Ramsey as his son even though in real-life he was four year older than Winters.

A slightly surreal segment where they go into a factory where workers are conditioned to crack open eggs in unison, which eventually leads to an egg throwing fight is the film’s one-and-only highpoint and even this isn’t much. I also got a kick out of the scenes with Anne Ramsey playing the part of a street preacher who tries to marry the couple first on the back of a speeding junk truck and then later while the three are floating in water with lifejackets on.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Larry Yust

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: VHS

The Main Event (1979)

main-event

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Babs promotes a boxer.

Hillary Kramer (Barbra Streisand) is an owner of a successful perfume company who suddenly finds that all of her financial assets have been stolen by an unscrupulous business manager. The only thing she has left is a contract with a down-and-out boxer named Eddie ‘Kid Natural’ Scanlon (Ryan O’Neal). She decides to become his manager and promote him even though he is through with boxing and much more content at working as a driving instructor.

Barbra is quite enjoyable and the one thing that manages to hold it all together even though I couldn’t stand her frizzy hair look and wished she had just kept it straight, but as a comic character she is good. I was amazed at how much she makes fun of herself including an open bit that takes potshots at her world famous nose. There are other segments that reverse her feminist stance as well where the man, or in this case the O’Neal character, feels like he’s being ‘objectified’ by her and after they sleep together feeling ‘used’ when she isn’t quite ready to get into a relationship. Amazingly she even allows herself to be clad in very tight fitting shorts and in one rather explicit moment bends down in them, which again being the famous feminist that we know she is in real-life seemed surprising, but I liked the fact that she can show a playful side and that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

Unfortunately O’Neal is the wrong man as her co-star as he is too weak of an actor and cannot keep up with her strong personality. Trying to play these two off as equals doesn’t work as he has no ability to counter her comic punch and his attempts at seeming exacerbated are forced and not funny. Sure they had success earlier with What’s Up Doc? but that was because he played a character that got run over and dominated by hers, which is the only way their contrasting styles would succeed on celluloid.

The film though still manages to be funny and I was ready to give this a 7 until it peters out like air coming out of a tire during the second half. Having the group cooped up in a winter cabin stifles the action as this is the type of story that should’ve stayed permanently on the road. The contrived love angle that gets thrown in is formulaic and not believable. These two could never get along even if they wanted to. They may at some point gain a begrudging respect for the other, but to think they could cohabitate in a lasting relationship is ridiculous and besides it was the bickering between them that was entertaining and once that goes so does the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fatso (1980)

fatso

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He can’t stop eating.

When her cousin dies at the age of 39 from being overweight Antoinette (Anne Bancroft) puts pressure on her brother Dom (Dom DeLuise) to work on losing some weight of his own. Dom tries but his lifelong obsession with food cannot be curbed. He ties a chain around the cupboards in his kitchen so he can’t get at the food inside and then has his brother Frankie (Ron Carey) hide the key. He even joins a club called the Chubby Checkers who are on-call at all hours to come to his home and counsel him should his willpower falter and yet it does no good until he meets Lydi (Candice Azzara) and her love for him helps him find strength.

This was Bancroft’s one-and-only foray behind the camera and unfortunately it’s a jumbled misguided mess that seems like a comedy at some points only to quickly turnover into a hard wrought drama the next. I enjoyed the recreation of the extended Italian family living in the New York, which was right on-target particularly the way they lean on each other in times of need while also vigorously fighting amongst themselves at other points. I also appreciated how religion is shown playing an important part in their lives particularly the crosses and pictures of Christ seen in almost every room even the bathroom. I’m not a religious person myself, but the film still helps the viewer understand and appreciate how spirituality can play a vital role to those whose lives seem empty and challenging otherwise.

The comical moments, or at least when they manage to randomly pop-up, aren’t bad either with the scene involving the two brothers attacking each other at different times while using the same knife being the best. DeLuise gives an excellent and highly underrated performance. The scene where he reads greeting cards out loud while constantly breaking into sobs is hilarious as is his first awkward meeting with Lydia. Unfortunately Dom became much more rotund later in his life and by comparison seems almost thin here.

The film gives the viewer a nice, sensitive portal to how tough fighting the urge to eat must be for those who are fat and manages to nicely expose the human side of the issue without ever mocking them. Bancroft does her emotional drama bit, from which she is best known for, quite well, but I felt the material really didn’t call for it and it becomes almost over-the-top. The pacing is also off and the story is never compelling despite the earnest efforts of its cast. It all would’ve played out better had it stuck firmly to the comical angle and the fact that it doesn’t really hurts it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anne Bancroft

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Out-of-Print/Anchor Bay)

Till Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: His dead wife returns.

Paul (Keith Atkinson) marries Anne (Belinda Balaski) only to have her perish on their wedding night. When he goes to visit her at her crypt he hears her wails and breaks into her coffin where he finds her to be alive. They spend the rest of the night talking until supernatural events begin to occur, which convinces Paul that things aren’t quite what they seem.

This very low budget film sat on the shelf for 6 years and it was for good reason. It is boring and uneventful and at times down right hokey. The sappy opening title tune is the most horrifying thing about this turkey and has no place in a horror film or any other movie for that matter. The car crash borders on being laughable. There is a shot of Balaski being quite literally swallowed out of the car with an over-the-top panicked expression while Atkinson, with an equally over-the-top panicked expression, tries to save her. The shot is quick and might have passed had it only been shown once, but the director keeps going back to it almost repeatedly until it becomes both corny and annoying.

The second half is about as static as you can get. Atkinson releases Balaski from her crypt and then the two have one long, sterile conversation that goes nowhere.  Since the woman was supposedly thrown from a car one would expect her to be a mangled up mess, but when the coffin gets opened there is not a scratch on her. The payoff for sitting through this thing is nothing as there is no interesting twist of any kind. It’s a dud from start to finish and filled with a lot of clichéd foggy atmosphere that’s supposed to be creepy, but wouldn’t scare a first-grader.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 20Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Walter Stocker

Studio: Cougar Films

Available: None at this time.

The Walking Stick (1970)

walking-stick

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Polio victim becomes pawn.

Deborah (Samantha Eggar) is a shy, lonely woman who suffered from polio as a young girl and now must rely on the use of a cane to get around. She still lives with her parents while suffering from claustrophobic tendencies due to being locked inside an iron lung as a child. She meets Leigh (David Hemmings) a struggling artist at a party and he asks her out. Initially she resists his advances, but eventually gives in. The two form a tight bound and even move in together, but her fairytale romance is short-lived once she realizes that she’s been pegged as a pawn and simply used by his gang for her inside knowledge of the auction house where she works to pull off a daring robbery.

The film, which is based on the novel by Winston Graham, is quite leisurely paced. To a degree I didn’t find this to be a problem as it still managed to hold my interest, but too much time is spent on the romance making it seem more like a drama.

The robbery and its planning doesn’t come into play until well over an hour in and seems like a whole different movie altogether. Certain hints should’ve been brought in from the beginning to make it clear to the viewer that despite all the romance this was still meant to be a thriller, which is just not obvious at all. The crime scenes do at least provide some action and quick edits, which normally would’ve made it exciting, but because it takes so long to get there it comes off as off-putting instead. The intended tension doesn’t work because we are less concerned if Leigh and his gang are going to get away with it and more upset at seeing Deborah being taken advantage of.

Eggar gives an outstanding performance and seeing this normally effervescent woman wearing a perpetual frown seemed almost startling, but she conveys her characters inner unhappiness quite well and mostly through her facial expressions alone. However, her character is also quite cold and acerbic. To a degree this is understandable as it’s clearly just a defense, but the viewer never sees enough of her softer side and therefore doesn’t emotional bond with her as they should.

Hemming’s more outgoing personality creates a nice contrast to Eggar’s introverted one, but his character is pretty benign. Dudley Sutton who plays his cohort would’ve made a better boyfriend as he is good at showing a dark side and would’ve kept the viewer more on edge.

The ending doesn’t provide any type of clear wrap-up and leaves a lot of loose ends hanging, which is a pity. The production values are decent and I liked the flashback scenes showing Debora being put into an iron lung, which is the film’s best cinematic moments, but the pace needed to be tighter with more emphasis placed on the story’s twists and turns.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 15, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Eric Till

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube